FIFA continues its climb up the Chinese wall with an unusual MoU

By Samindra Kunti

April 29 – FIFA has taken the unusual step of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with one of its national associations, the Chinese Football Association (CFA), to boost the development of football in China. 

The world governing body said the new partnership will aim to enhance football structures, management and technical aspects related to football in China. The MoU focused on the governance structure of the CFA, technical development at all levels, refereeing, professionalisation of football and event management.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: “It must be a priority of FIFA to ensure that the world’s most popular game keeps growing and developing in the world’s most populous country. Chinese football has been making strides for a long time now, and we are sure that, with this agreement, FIFA is in the position to provide a very tailored assistance for the game to evolve even further in China.”

China’s longstanding ambitions in the game are no secret. The country’s president Xi Jinping is a football fan and has expressed his desire for China to become a powerhouse in the global game, but Jinping’s idea of using football as a tool for soft power will require a long-term plan that the significant investment in the domestic league might not provide.

The Chinese Super League has risen to prominence, but at the grassroots level China still has a mountain to climb if they want to be competitive against the Asian elite and on the world stage. At the last Asian Cup a lackluster Chinese national team crashed out in the quarter-finals against Iran a in tie that highlighted the gulf in class between China and some of Asia’s top teams.

While on the pitch the only mark made by the Chinese has generally been in the transfer markets with some big money, big name signings for its CSL clubs, off it Chinese companies have quickly worked their way to the core of FIFA’s finances through sponsorship deals as the governing body suffered a downturn over the FIFAGate corruption scandal.

In 2016 Wanda became a top tier FIFA sponsor while a plethora of Chinese companies came in for Russia 2018 deals and regional World Cup partnerships to save face in what was looking like a particularly bleak sponsorship landscape.

China is expected to bid for the 2030 World Cup and perhaps land the tournament in what might well be seen as a tit-for-tat.

“As a big nation committed to the development of world football, China is willing to make its contributions while being integrated into the international football family,” said CFA acting president Du Zhaocai. “We look forward to receiving the continuous support from FIFA for our football development, which will further promote the development of the game worldwide.”

Generally these kinds of MoUs are signed between regional confederations or between national associations – bodies that have similar interests, face the same kinds of challenges and require similar solutions. Infantino and FIFA have aligned themselves not only with the world’s largest national population but, more cravenly, its biggest potential football cashcow.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1558495225labto1558495225ofdlr1558495225owedi1558495225sni@o1558495225fni1558495225